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BUT…Make Sure You Read the Fine Print!

So the schools your teen wants to apply to are all test optional. That’s great news if your teen is a poor test taker, but gets very good grades in school.  She’s also a super athlete, so the coach* says that she’s all but assured entrance. Done deal!

But is it really? George Washington University became one of the latest high profile schools to change to a test optional admissions policy. So far, about 185 schools out of just under 5,000 public and private universities and colleges are test optional, but does this actually provide your teen with the best chance of getting in?

You’ve heard this before, and it certainly holds true for schools that offer a test optional admissions policy: “The devil is in the details.” So it may not be as advantageous as it appears.

Looking at it fairly simplistically (see the above scenario) it may seem like a welcome relief for students who struggle to get higher test scores; however, let’s look at what’s really involved in the admissions process when scores are NOT submitted.

  1. As one admissions officer put it, “SAT/ACT optional does not mean we don’t consider test scores. When scores are submitted, they become an important part of the applicant’s file. Most do submit, which helps us make a more informed evaluation.” When test scores are not part of the application – outside of GPA – the criteria used are totally subjective, such as strength of HS curriculum, counselor and teacher recommendations, college essay, hence they need to be much ‘stronger’ than competitive. Ambiguous variables to say the least.
  2. When students submit their applications without test scores, it’s automatically assumed that the scores weren’t that high, so admissions offers say that they “try not to make that assumption about a candidate and make the best judgment with the information submitted”. Sounds risky.
  3. Many schools limit merit scholarship awards to those applicants that submit test scores. That said, those schools that are test optional are only test optional for students not considered for a merit scholarship.
  4. For all or their negatives, the SAT and ACT contain some important information. If they didn’t, GW wouldn’t be keeping the SAT/ACT requirement for certain applicants such as those applying to the seven-year BA-MD program or those who don’t submit a GPA.
  5. The SAT does a pretty decent job (no entrance exam will EVER be perfect) of embodying in a single number a student’s aptitude. Again such variables as ‘leadership ability’ or ‘character’ and other intangibles may allow the admissions officer too much latitude in evaluating an applicant.

So what’s a student to do? I think the answer is obvious – test scores are an important variable of the college admission process and will probably always be. What do GPAs really mean from high school to high school? To reiterate, how can intangible variables not remain a purely subjective gauge for admissions?

In my 37 years of experience of offering test preparation, most students have increased their scores to a level commensurate with their academic profile. Rarely do I have student that when he or she applies our proven strategies, does not get the score they need and want.

Do you want your teen to be one of our many success stories? School is about to begin and we have a few more spots available for PSAT prep as well as the September and October ACT, or the November SAT.

Schedule your complimentary Test Prep Strategy Session NOW! Find out your teen’s better exam – 60 Second ACT vs. SAT Assessment  –  as well as type of learner. Finally, create a game plan for a successful path from high school to college.

*The coach probably does not wield as much power as he may let on.


Acknowledgments for this article:

Lane, Charles. 2015. “In Defense of the SAT Test.” Washington Post, July 29.

College Confidential,

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